We may be drawn to practice out of suffering, but meditation is not just for pain relief. It is also about joy. It is like a magnifying glass in the hands of a child on a sunny day. He holds the glass steady; the light concentrates on a spot on the ground; a dry leaf goes up in flame. Meditation can be a magnifying glass that lights the fire of happiness in our hearts. All of the conditions for happiness are available to us at any moment. Our job is to hold steady, to concentrate, and to allow our natural warmth to be released. Over time, mindfulness practice sensitizes our capacity for joy so much that even tiny physical and emotional pleasures can bring great happiness. When our minds are quiet and our hearts are strong, we see that the whole world is full of grace.
But how is this possible? How can sitting still teach us to relinquish suffering and embrace grace? The Buddha was reluctant to use words to answer this question. Instead, he just said, "Come and see." Or, as my friend who is a Jesuit priest says, "Everything gets sorted out in the Great Silence." Describing meditation is difficult, and it can make one sound like a moron, or a phony, or a shyster. "There's a two-thousand-year tradition of finding it impossible to describe," says Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist who uses meditation and psychotherapy in tandem. The difficulty of talking about meditation lies not only in its experiential nature but also in the fact that the meditative experience takes us deeper and deeper into realms where language and even thought lose their potency.
There are some teachers and authors whose words come close to describing meditation. In this beautiful passage, the Catholic priest Henri Nouwen counsels meditators to cultivate patience in their practice: